TORONTO – Canada’s reigning “Polka King” is adding a lottery win to his list of accolades.
Walter Ostanek has had a successful 60-year career, with three Grammy wins and the Order of Canada under his belt. Now he’s also claiming the $1 million grand prize in the London, Ont. Dream Lottery.
The St. Catharines, Ont., accordion star said he’s been buying lottery tickets wherever he can since he was a teenager. Now 81, this is the first time he’s won something more than “100 bucks or a pair of binoculars.”
“Myself, I really don’t need anything other than good health, but I’ll think of something to do,” he said in an interview.
The London Dream Lottery announced its early winners earlier this week, with Ostanek claiming the ultimate grand prize: A choice between two luxury houses, a condo or $1 million in cash. He chose the cash. Proceeds from ticket sales benefit London hospitals.
While Ostanek has made a comfortable living recording and playing polka music, he said it isn’t on the same scale as some musicians in other genres. But he loves polka, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
He added that the money would help take care of family as well as pay for the nursing home expenses for his wife of 59 years, Irene. He goes to see her every other day after he plays his regular summer gig at the Marineland amusement park in Niagara Falls — something he’s been doing for more than three decades, and isn’t planning on stopping despite the winnings.
“What for? I love what I do. I started (playing shows) July 1 and I feel better now, much better than I did before July 1. So something agrees with me,” he said.
Ostanek plays a nearly six-hour set seven days a week at the park until the end of the summer, when he switches to playing shows at local Oktoberfest celebrations.
“By the time September rolls around, I’m in pretty good shape. My fingers are going quite well,” he said.
Ostanek said a friend who helps with his onstage sound management delivered the news about his winnings to him and asked how it felt to be a millionaire — for once, he wasn’t joking around.
The musician is happily taking the unexpected money in stride. He’s grateful, but he views the win, like his other accomplishments, with a matter-of-fact attitude: to become a polka king, he laughs, “the first thing you have to do is buy an accordion.”
“With all this going on, I’m upside down a bit,” he said, adding that he had a hard time sleeping the night he got the news, and on Wednesday he said he almost nodded off onstage from the lack of rest.
“You buy a ticket and hope you win,” he said. “There are a lot of awards that I have, but this and the Grammys and the Order of Canada are my prized possessions.”